Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Did Preston Brooks Have That Cane?

For some reason (or no reason, I suppose), it never occurred to me that Preston Brooks actually needed that cane he brought with him when he entered the Senate chamber in 1856. If you had asked me, I would probably have said that it was either an affectation - more of a walking stick than a cane - or Brooks had brought it specifically to assault Charles Sumner.

Well, you learn something new every day. According to Shearer Davis Bowman, Brooks used a cane because of an old dueling injury - an injury inflicted by none other than our friend Louis Trezevant Wigfall.
In the early 1840s, on an island in the Savannah River, Wigfall and Preston Brooks had engaged in a duel. Wigfall took a bullet in the thigh but shot Brooks through the hip. Brooks used a cane for the rest of his life, pressing the walking stick in 1856 as a weapon with which to beat Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate.
About the illustration, entitled Democratic Platform Illustrated (1856):
Another attack on the 1856 Democratic platform as pro-South and proslavery. The Buchanan-Breckenridge ticket is reviled on the basis of recent developments occurring during the outgoing Pierce administration. In the center of the picture is a flagstaff bearing an American flag inscribed "Buchanan & Breckenridge. Modern Democracy." To its base are chained two slaves (right)--a man and a woman. The woman kneels before an overseer with a whip and pistol in his pocket, and asks, "Is this Democracy?" The overseer declares, "We will subdue you." In the background one of Cuba's coastal towns burns and is fired upon by a ship. The scene probably refers to expressed Democratic ambitions to annex Cuba for the expansion of American slave territory. The phrase "A due regard for our just rights in the Gulf of Mexico" appears above the burning town. A similar scene of conflagration, "Squatter sovereignty demonstrated," appears in the left background. Here a settlement in Kansas burns and its inhabitants are driven away by armed marauders. Reference is to atrocities committed in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of May 1854, which was endorsed by the Democratic platform. The act provided for dividing the Nebraska territory into two parts, each later to be admitted into the Union as either slave or free, as decided in each case by popular (or "squatter") sovereignty. The measure ushered in a bloody struggle between proslavery and antislavery settlers over control of Kansas. The antislavery town of Lawrence, Kansas, was invaded and sacked by a proslavery posse on May 21, 1856. In the left foreground is Preston S. Brooks's May 22 attack on Charles Sumner in Congress. (See "Arguments of the Chivalry," no. 1856-1.)

"The grievance is not about the Territories"

A reference in Shearer Davis Bowman's At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis, led me to take a look at remarks made by Texas Senator Louis Trezevant Wigfall on Saturday March 2, 1861.

Wigfall was, as they say, a piece of work (as Jefferson Davis found out during the war), but judging from his comments no dummy and a skilled polemicist. While making clear that the issue of slavery lay at the heart of the secession crisis, his discussion of the remedy both characterized the north as the aggressor and asserted that nothing less than the meaning of representative self-government was at stake (some paragraph breaks added):

Now as to this talk which the Senator from Minnesota [Henry M. Rice] indulged in early in the evening. He pretended to say – and I suppose really he was sincere about it, for there are none so blind as those who will not see – that the whole difficulty had grown out of our being defeated in a presidential election; and that if Mr. Breckinridge had been elected, there would have been no dissolution of the Union.

Of course there would not. Mr. Breckinridge ran as a candidate for the Presidency upon a platform which declared explicitly that slaves were property, and, like all other property, were entitled to protection wherever the Federal flag floated, wherever the Federal Government had jurisdiction. Had that sentiment been indorsed, north and south, east and west, this Union would have been saved; but when you elected a man upon a platform which declared in substance – I do not pretend to quote it – that slaves were not property; and that, instead of protection, it should meet confiscation wherever the flag floated or this Government – our common government – had jurisdiction, we said to you, we would live under no such Government; and we have made good our words. We have dissolved the Union; mend it if you can; cement it with blood; try the experiment.

We do not desire war; we wish to avoid it. We are not interfering with you; and have no objection to the people of Massachusetts living, from this time until the last trump[et?] sounds, under such a form of government as she sees fit. We have no objection to New York living under such a government as she sees fit; and so as to all the other States. What we are willing to accord to you, we want to secure to ourselves – the right of self-government. We invade not your soil in order to subvert your institutions. We will not be invaded because you wish to subvert ours. We assert that the right of self-government is the only right that was established by the Revolution; that it is the only right that is set forth in the Declaration of Independence; that it is a right inalienable to freemen, and terrible to tyrants only.


It is better, then, to look this matter in the face, and see what is the grievance. The grievance is not about the Territories. It is the denial that slaves are property, and the declaration that the Federal Government has a right to settle that question. Nothing short, I believe, of an amendment to the Constitution declaring that each State has the right to secede – which is admitting the right of self-government to the people of each one of these sovereign States – will give satisfaction. I am sure, if you are talking about reconstruction, and expecting any one of these Gulf States to come back, that nothing short of that would induce them even to entertain your propositions.

You must admit that the masters are free; that they have a right to live under such a Government as they see fit; that they can peaceably, quietly, constitutionally change their government, if they see fit. When you do that, then they will entertain the proposition as to whether the form of government you offer them is satisfactory or not. But while you deny the right of secession, while you deny the right of self-government, those men will not consider whether they are are to be well governed or badly governed; and they should not.

Admit the right to govern themselves, and then offer amendments to the Constitution securing the right to their property in this Government, and then they will entertain the proposition. Nothing short of that, I am satisfied, would induce any one of the confederate States again to secede from that confederation, and come back into this.

Happy Halloween!

A witchy illustration for your Halloween enjoyment, entitled The Little Magician & the Modern Witch of Endor (1848):
Another satire on Van Buren's alliance with extremists, here personified by radical abolitionist Abby Folsom. Van Buren's emergence as candidate of the Free Soil party in the 1848 presidential race was viewed as a reversal of his earlier administration stand on the issue. By invoking the specter of Benedict Arnold here the artist may also be criticizing Van Buren's repudiation of the regular Democratic party. On the left the ghost of Revolutionary War turncoat Benedict Arnold has emerged from his grave. He points threateningly toward "Abby Fulsome" (center) and Van Buren (right), and says, "Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? Behold the Government is rent from thee, & is given to thy neighbor, even to [Democratic presidential nominee Lewis] "Cass." The Buffaloes will be delivered into the hand of thine enemies, & thou and thy Son shall be with me." The print must date between Van Buren's nomination at the Free Soil party convention, held in early August 1848 at Buffalo, N.Y., and Zachary Taylor's electoral victory over Cass in November. Van Buren and "Fulsome" recoil in horror at the sight of the spirit. Folsom observes, "An old man cometh up and he is covered with a mantle." Van Buren responds, "Our sufferings "is" intolerable." The quote was a well-known grammatical lapse of Van Buren's, widely exploited by the opposition during his term of office.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Know-Nothings in the News!

John Kerry once again lashes out at the hoi polloi: “It’s absurd. We’ve lost our minds. We’re in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don’t weigh in. It’s all short-order, lowest-common-denominator, cheap-seat politics.”

"It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal"

I have long thought that the worst decision made in the Civil War was the first: Jefferson's Davis's directive to open fire on Fort Sumter. According to Pleasant A. Stovall, Confederate Secretary of State Robert A. Toombs of Georgia agreed with me:
Secretary Toombs was one man in the Montgomery Cabinet who was not deceived by Seward's sophistries. He knew the temper of Mr. Lincoln better than Mr. Seward did. He appreciated the feeling at the North, and gave his counsel in the Davis Cabinet against the immediate assault upon Sumter. There was a secret session of the Cabinet in Montgomery. Toombs was pacing the floor during the discussion over Sumter, his hands behind him, and his face wearing that heavy, dreamy look when in repose. Facing about, he turned upon the President and opposed the attack. "Mr. President," he said, "at this time, it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from mountains to ocean, and legions, now quiet, will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal." He clung to the idea expressed in his dispatches to the commissioners, that "So long as the United States neither declares war nor establishes peace, the Confederate States have the advantage of both conditions." But just as President Lincoln overruled Secretary Seward, so President Davis overruled Secretary Toombs.

An Undeserved Honor

I see that the creators of Online Schools have been kind enough to include this blog on a list of 50 Resources for Students Attending Online Liberal Arts Schools. I'm stunned and don't know what to say, other than Thanks!

About the illustration, entitled The Right Man for the Right Place (1856), which features my favorite, Millard Fillmore:
Another satire complimentary to Fillmore, whose [1856] campaign slogan was "the right man in the right place." Fillmore was nominated at the American party's February 22 convention in Philadelphia. Here he is the embodiment of equanimity, in stark contrast to the combative hostility of Republican John C. Fremont (left) and Democrat James Buchanan. Fillmore mediates between the two men, who are armed here with a musket and dagger respectively. Fremont: "He's a border ruffian! and I'll shoot the Slave-holding Villain!" He associates Buchanan with recent violence against antislavery settlers in Kansas, and with the slaveholding interests. Buchanan, raising his dagger but restrained by Fillmore: "Let go! Let me at him! I'll make Mince meat of the rascally abolitionist!" Fillmore: "Stop! Stop! My friends, I cant allow any fighting, there must be peace between you as long as I stand here."

Time Traveler Filmed Using Cell Phone in 1928

An alert film buff spots footage showing a time traveler talking on a cell phone in 1928. You explain it - I can't.

"Children Writhing on a Pike"

I still think the J.Q. Adams-Andy Jackson contest of 1828 should get the nod for the nastiest presidential election, but Reason makes the case for the 1800 race between TJ and Quinzy's dad.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Kansas-Nebraska Act in the News!

They [Obama and Democratic congressional leaders] passed a health care bill that was the most unpopular major legislation passed by Congress since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. That law, which allowed settlers to decide whether to allow slavery in these new territories, resulted in the disappearance of one major political party, the demotion to minority status of the other and led to civil war. The effects of Obamacare will not be so dire, though some longtime Democratic officeholders may think so on November 3.

About the illustration, entitled Our Political Snake-Charmer, published February 11, 1860:
British political cartoon shows Stephen Douglas with snakes labeled with the political positions: Old Line (Whig), American, So. American, Anti-Lecompton, Democrat, and Republican. Stephens says, "You perceive, ladies and gentlemen, that the creatures are entirely under my control. John Forney, a Democrat who had switched sides and become a Republican Lincoln supporter, says, "Hope the Brutes won't bite!"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Clayton Compromise 2: The Northern Members Reject Extension of the Missouri Compromise Line to the Pacific

As described in the last post, the Senate appointed the eight members of the Clayton Committee on Thursday July 13, 1848. The Committee performed its work expeditiously, for Senator John M. Clayton of Delaware as Chairman reported the Committee's proposed bill to the Senate less than a week later, on Wednesday July 19, 1848.

The Committee formulated its legislation in private. However, we have a reasonably good idea of the course of the Committee's deliberations. Both at the time and later Senator Clayton described the other approaches discussed and rejected before the bill took shape. In a nutshell, the four southern members – including (incredibly) John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and (ironically) David R. Atchison of Missouri – endorsed the idea of extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean: slavery would be barred north of the line, and permitted (but not required) south of it. The four norther members of the committee, however, refused to acquiesce.

When he introduced the Committee's bill on July 19, 1848, Sen. Clayton related this history as follows:
[A]fter a full interchange of views, a vote was taken on a proposition moved by the Senator from Missouri, [Mr. ATCHISON,] “that the spirit of the Missouri compromise be adopted to govern the settlement of all the Territories of the United States.” On this question the committee divided, five for and three against the motion. The Senator from Indiana [Mr. BRIGHT] then moved the proposition . . . containing the words of the Missouri compromise. As the condition of the territory was now said to be different from that to which that compromise applied in 1820, a motion was made by the Senator from Kentucky [Mr. UNDERWOOD] to amend that proposition by providing that “all the territory in New Mexico and California, south of the parallel of 36° 30', shall be placed on same footing in all respects as to slavery that existed in Louisiana while it was a territory.” On this question, the committee divided, four for the motion and four against it. After the failure of this motion, the question was taken on the proposition of the Senator from Kentucky, and with a like result – the committee being again equally divided.

At this stage of the proceedings all compromise appeared to be impossible.
Six years later, debate raged in the Senate over the proposed Nebraska Bill, with northern legislators railing that the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise line was a betrayal of a fundamental compact between the sections. Presumably in that context, on March 1, 1854 Senator Clayton reportedly delivered (I cannot find the speech in the Congressional Globe; the quote below is taken from this source) a more emotionally-colored rendition of the northern members' refusal to extend the compromise line back in 1848:
Now, sir, I am compelled, in justice to both sections of the Union, to relate in your presence, you having been a member of the committee, and knowing the truth of the facts which I am about to state, what occurred in that committee. As soon as we assembled, a proposition was made by a member from the South to extend the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific. You, sir, remember it well. The vote upon it stood four northern members against it, and four southern members for it. The proposition was renewed in every form in which we could conceive it would be proper; but our northern friends rejected it as often as it was proposed. We discussed it; we entreated them to adopt it. We did not pretend that it was a constitutional measure, but it had been held by many as a compact between the North and the South, and in such an emergency as that then existing, it had been justified by the people as a measure of peace. We argued the question to show our northern friends the justice, not the constitutionality, of extending such a line to the Pacific. I remember well that I obtained a statement from the Land Office which showed the effect of it; and I thought it ought to satisfy northern gentlemen. From that statement it appeared that if the line were extended to the Pacific, the free labor of the North would have the exclusive occupation of one million six hundred thousand square miles of land in the territories outside of the states, and the South but two hundred and sixty-two thousand, in which, observe, slavery could only be tolerated in case the people residing there should allow it. The debates which followed the report of the committee fully sustain all these statements of mine. Among other things I said in a speech, delivered in the Senate, after the report, on the 3d of August, 1848, which will be found on page 1207 of the Appendix to the Congressional Globe for that session:—

"I am bound to state, and I will now do It in the presence of all the members of the committee, northern as well as southern, that in that committee the South proposed the Missouri compromise in spirit and effect; that all the territory north of 36° 30' should be free, and all south of it open to slavery, if the people there should will it."

Again, I stated at the same time:—

"The proposal of the South to run the line of 36° 30' to the Pacific would have made one million six hundred thousand square miles of the territory, lying beyond the states, on both sides the Rocky Mountains, free from slavery for ever, and would have left for African slavery south of 36° 30' parts of California and New Mexico, containing only about two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of the most worthless part of the whole country – In other words less than one-sixth in area, and less than one-twentieth in value of all the territory acquired by the common blood and treasure. The gentlemen of the committee from the North having voted down this proposal made by a southern member, there was indeed, as the gentleman from South Carolina [Mr. Calhoun] has described it, a solemn pause in that committee. All hope of amicable settlement for the moment vanished, and unnatural contention seemed likely to prevail among us. . . .

Mr. Atchison, the President, (in the chair,) here rose, and said: If the Senate will permit me, I will here state that the Senator from Delaware has, according to tho best of my recollection, substantially stated what did take place while that committee was in session.

The Clayton Compromise 1: Formation of the Committee of Eight

In July 1848, the Senate was mired in contentious debate over how to organize the huge swaths of territory that the United States had acquired from Great Britain (Oregon) and Mexico (California and the southwest). The status of slavery in the territories was the flashpoint.

On Wednesday July 12, 1848, Senator John M. Clayton, a Whig from Delaware, arose to propose the appointment of a special committee to be assigned the task of devising a solution. The committee's proposed solution – known to us at the Clayton Compromise – proved to be unsuccessful. However, I thought it would be interesting to go back to the Congressional Globe and take a look at the proposal, the reactions to it, and why it ultimately failed.

Sen. Clayton first made his proposal for a special committee toward the end of yet another frustrating day of often fiery rhetoric over attempts to organize the Oregon Territory. Clayton proposed the formation of a special committee of eight members, equally divided both by region (four members from slave states, four from the north) and by party (four Democrats, four Whigs):
[Clayton] moved that the subject be recommended to a committee of eight members, to be appointed by ballot, four to be selected from the North, and four from the South, and he would go further, and say, to from each party in the South, and two from each party in the North.

If the report of that committee shall be that nothing can be effected at this session, let us do our ordinary business and go home.
The scope of the assignment that Sen. Clayton originally proposed for the committee is unclear to me. The Committee on the Territories was then considering bills concerning the Mexican Cession. Clayton seemed to expect that that Committee would carry on its work, and that the select committee would focus primarily on Oregon:
Mr. CLAYTON said he did not intend to refer the subjects of California and New Mexico to this committee. He wished the Committee on Territories to go on with their work – waiting before they report, for the decision of the special committee or of the Senate. For the purpose of allaying the general excitement, and giving a chance for the settlement of the question, he had proposed his motion for a select committee.
At the last moment, however, Senator Jesse D. Bright, a Democrat from Indiana, moved to amend the proposal to make clear that the select committee would be responsible for producing a plan that would cover the Mexican Cession as well as Oregon:
Mr. BRIGHT suggested a modification to the effect that the Committee on the Territories be discharged from further consideration of so much of the President's message as relates to New Mexico, California, and Oregon, and that the same be referred to the select committee of eight.
Sen. Clayton concurred with the modification, following which his proposal was put to a vote and “decided in the affirmative” by a large margin – 31 to 14. Southern senators – even John C. Calhoun of South Carolina – voted solidly in favor. Senator John M. Berrien, Whig of Georgia, presumably expressed the thoughts of most of the majority when he asserted, shortly before the vote, that
[h]e could see nothing in the motion which could be objectionable to any party; and he hoped, that on the calm comparison of opinions in the committee-room, some arrangement of a satisfactory character might be agreed on.
The nays came almost exclusively from northern senators who presumably saw appointment of the committee as setting the stage for a compromise that would abandon the Wilmot Proviso.

Immediately following the vote, “the Senate adjourned in a state of exhaustion, after a continuous session of six hours.”

The next day, the Senate appointed the members of the Clayton Committee. Counting John C. Calhoun as a Democrat, the Senate adhered to the stipulation that there be two members of each party from each section:

John M. Clayton, Chairman (Whig, Delaware)
John C. Calhoun (Democrat [more or less], South Carolina)
David R. Atchison (Democrat, Missouri)
Jesse D. Bright (Democrat, Indiana)
Daniel S. Dickinson (Democrat, New York)
Joseph R. Underwood (Whig, Kentucky)
John H. Clarke (Whig, Rhode Island)
Samuel S. Phelps (Whig, Vermont)

Of these, six had voted in favor of the Clayton's resolution. One – Senator Clarke of Rhode Island – had voted against. Sen. Phelps had not voted.

About the illustration, entitled Present Presidential Position (1846):
Once again Polk's handling of the Oregon territorial dispute between the United States and Great Britain is criticized. (See "Polk's Dream" and "War! or No War!" nos. 1846-2 and 1846-4). Here the artist seems to suggest political motivation behind Polk's insistence on the 54.40 parallel as the northern boundary to American territory. At the 54.40 line, two small boys bait "Donkey" Polk with a "Re-election" cabbage. The boy holding the cabbage comments, "Come here Jem, here's a animal as sees something and wont move no how you can fix it!" His friend encourages him to "Coax along with a cabbage Bill, if that wont move him put a locofoco match under his nose!" "Loco Foco" was a type of match as well as a nickname for radical Democrats of the time. Polk exclaims, "Here I am by the order or masters of the Baltimore Convention, with my nose down to this line and here I shall stick, though I fall a martyr to my devotion to the great Democratic party!" The Baltimore Convention of 1844, which nominated Polk for the presidency, also wedded the party's platform to the 54.40 parallel on the Oregon question. Three groups of men surround Polk. To the left stand the "Whig Members" of Congress, one of whom says to the expansionist Democrats in the center, "Take your own course, gentlemen, with your own animal! He is a sorry one at best, and won't be worth a copper after you've got him out of that fit. Its nothing more nor less than the blind staggers!" Lewis Cass and Ohio senators William Allen and Edward Hannegan stand in the center group behind Polk. Cass, in military uniform, says, "It's my opinion, Hannegan, that he's going to back out! His nose is not so near the line by three inches as it was a week ago!" Allen begs of Cass, "Oh don't let him flinch General. It's our only hope!" Hannegan says, "By heaven! it cannot be General! If he does he's worse than a second Arnold. We must be ready to cut him down at once! Let me have your sword?" The third group (far right) stands at the forty-ninth parallel. It includes more conservative Democrats (left to right) John Clayton [the description of Clayton as a Democrat is incorrect; Clayton was a Whig], John Calhoun, Thomas Hart Benton, and William Henry Haywood, Jr. (labeled "Hayward"). Clayton inquires, "How shall we get him off? He has not budged or brayed for the last month!" John Calhoun remarks, "I see how it is gentlemen! He has got it into his head that to be great is to be silent and obstinate! Coaxing will be of no use! You might as well use force at once!" Benton adds, "In my opinion it's a very miserable imitation of old Hickory's firmness and independence." Haywood assures everyone, "I, gentlemen, am the only man in the field that knows when that jackass is going to move."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

William Henry Harrison

Over at Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog, FH has an excellent post on Old Tippecanoe: Forgotten Giant: William Henry Harrison, Part 1. Get thee thither!

"A variety of circumstances unnecessary as well as improper to relate"

In A Slaveholders' Union, George William Van Cleve argues that southerners voted in favor of the Northwest Ordinance - including its antislavery Article 6 - enacted by the Continental Congress July 13, 1787, as part of a quid pro quo with the north. The quo, he maintains, was northern agreement to abandon the position, in treaty negotiations with the Spanish, that the United States should be willing to relinquish American navigation rights to the Mississippi for several decades.

By way of background, on July 20, 1785, the Continental Congress empowered John Jay to enter into negotiations with Spain to obtain a treaty "establishing and fixing the boundaries between the territories of the said United States and those of His Catholick Majesty, and for promoting the general harmony and mutual interest of the two Nations."

On August 25, 1785, Congress tightened Jay's instructions, directing him to insist that Spain grant America "the free Navigation of the Mississippi, from the source to the Ocean":
Resolved, That the last paragraph in the instructions to the Secretary to the United States for the department of foreign Affairs, passed July 20th, 1785, for entering into a treaty, compact or convention with the Encargado de Negocios of his Catholick Majesty, in the words following:

That the Secretary to the United States of America for the department of foreign Affairs be, and he is hereby instructed, previous to his making propositions to Don Diego de Gardoqui, or agreeing with him on any Article, Compact or Convention, to communicate to Congress the propositions to be made or received relative to such Article, Compact or Convention," be repealed, and that the following be substituted in its place:

That the Secretary to the United States for the Department of foreign Affairs be and he is hereby instructed, in his plan of a treaty with the Encargado de Negocios of his Catholick Majesty, particularly to stipulate the right of the United States to their territorial bounds, and the free Navigation of the Mississippi, from the source to the Ocean, as established in their Treaties with Great Britain; and that he neither conclude nor sign any treaty, compact or convention, with the said Encargado de Negocios, until he hath previously communicated it to Congress, and received their approbation.

In negotiations with the Spanish representative, Don Diego de Gardoqui, however, Jay reached an impasse. Although Gardoqui appeared willing to grant commercial concessions advantageous to the states of the north east, he absolutely refused to consider granting the United States any rights of navigation on the Mississippi. In August 1786, Jay notified Congress of the impasse and recommended that Congress authorize him to relinquish navigation rights on the Mississippi for twenty-five years:
My attention is chiefly fixed on two obstacles, which at present divide us, viz. the Navigation of the Mississippi, and the territorial limits between them and us.

My Letters written from Spain, when our affairs were the least promising, evince my opinion respecting the Mississippi, and oppose every idea of our relinquishing our right to navigate it. I entertain the same sentiments of that right, and of the importance of retaining it, which I then did.

Mr. Gardoqui strongly insists on our relinquishing it. We have had many Conferences and much reasoning on the subject, not necessary now to detail. His concluding answer to all my Arguments has steadily been, that the King will never yield that point, nor consent to any compromise about it; for that it always has been, and continues to be, one of their Maxims of policy, to exclude all Mankind from their American shores.

I have often reminded him that the adjacent Country was filling fast with people; and that the time must and would come, when they would not submit to seeing a fine river flow before their doors without using it as a high way to the sea for the transportation of their productions; that it would therefore be wise to look forward to that event, and take care not to sow in the treaty any seeds of future discord. He said that the time alluded to was far distant; and that treaties were not to provide for contingencies so remote and future. For his part he considered the rapid settlement of that Country as injurious to the States, and that they would find it necessary to check it. Many fruitless Arguments passed between us; and tho' he would admit that the only way to make treaties and friendship permanent, was for neither party to leave the other any thing to complain of; yet he would still insist, that the Mississippi must be shut against us. The truth is, that Courts never admit the force of any reasoning or Arguments but such as apply in their favor; and it is equally true, that even if our right to that Navigation, or to any thing else, was expressly declared in Holy Writ, we should be able to provide for the enjoyment of it no otherwise than by being in capacity to repel force by force.

Circumstanced as we are, I think it would be expedient to agree that the treaty should be limited to twenty five or thirty years, and that one of the Articles should stipulate that the United States would forbear to use the Navigation of that River below their territories to the Ocean. Thus the duration of the treaty and of the forbearance in question would be limited to the same period.

Whether Mr. Gardoqui would be content with such an Article, I cannot determine, my instructions restraining me from even sounding him respecting it. I nevertheless think the experiment worth trying . . ..
Based on Jay's recommendation, on Monday August 28, 1786 Congress, sitting as Committee of the Whole, reported resolutions recommending that Jay be permitted to concede navigation of the Mississippi if necessary:
Resolved, That so much of the resolution of Congress of the 25 day of August, 1785, being an instruction to the Secretary of the United States for the department of foreign affairs, as are contained in the following words, namely, "And that the following be substituted in its place, 'that the Secretary to the U. S. for the department of foreign affairs be and hereby is instructed, in his plan of a treaty with the encargado de Negocios of his catholic Majesty, particularly to stipulate the right of the U. S. to their territorial bounds, and the free navigation of the Mississippi from the source to the Ocean, established in their treaties with Great Britain; and that he neither conclude nor sign any treaty, compact or convention with the said encargado de Negocios until he hath previously communicated it to Congress and received their approbation,'" be, and the same is hereby repealed and made void.

Resolved, That the secretary of the U. S. for the department of foreign affairs be and hereby is instructed, if in the course of his negotiation with the encargado de Negocios of his catholic Majesty, it shall be found indispensable for the conclusion of the same, that the U. S. and their citizens, for a limited time, should forbear to use so much of the river Mississippi as is south of the southern boundary of the U. S., that he be and hereby is authorized and directed, on behalf of the United States, to consent to an article or articles stipulating on their part and that of their citizens a forbearance of the use of the said river Mississippi, for a period not exceeding years, from the point where the southern boundary of the U. S. intersects the said river, to its mouth or the Ocean; provided that such stipulation of a forbearance of the use of the said river for a limited time as aforesaid, shall not be construed to extinguish the right of the U. S., independent of such stipulation, to use and navigate the said river from its source to the Ocean; provided farther, that the Secretary of foreign Affairs shall not stipulate on behalf of the U. S., in favour of the exclusive navigation and use of the said river Mississippi by his Catholic Majesty and his subjects, below its intersection of the southern boundary of the U. S., unless it shall be agreed and stipulated in the same treaty, that the navigation and use of the said river from the intersection aforesaid to its head or source be and continue common to the U. S. and his Catholic Majesty and to their respective citizens and subjects. And the said secretary of foreign Affairs is hereby farther instructed, firmly to insist on the territorial boundaries of the United States southwardly and westwardly, as fixed by the definitive treaty of peace and friendship between the U. S. of America and his Britannic Majesty; and on no condition to consent to a treaty, unless the same shall contain a quit claim of all pretended rights and claims of his catholic Majesty to territory within the U. S. eastwardly of the Mississippi and northerly of the Floridas; whether the said rights or claims are pretended in virtue of conquest or otherwise. And if in the course of the negotiation a question should arise relative to the precise boundary line between the U. S. and the Floridas, the said Secretary of foreign Affairs is hereby instructed that the Floridas do not, and ought not of right to extend to the Northward of the boundary line between them and the U. S. as fixed by the definitive treaty aforesaid, and that he shall not in any event by treaty or otherwise consent to the extent of the Floridas northerly of a line or boundary of the U.S. adjacent to the Floridas, specified in a separate Article of the provisional Articles between the U.S. and Great Britain, at Paris, on the 30 day of November, 1782. And provided that a disagreement shall take place between the said Secretary of foreign Affairs and the Encargado de Negocios of his C. Majesty, by the latter's insisting on the boundary line as specified by the aforesaid separate article, and the former's insisting on the boundary line as fixed in the aforesaid definitive treaty, the said Secretary of foreign Affairs is hereby authorised to agree to the settlement and final decision of such disagreement by Commissaries mutually appointed for that purpose; for the appointment of whom and for all other purposes incident to the final determination of the said disagreement by Commissaries, conformable to the laws of Nations, the said Secretary of foreign Affairs is hereby invested with full powers on behalf of the U.S. of America.
In votes at the end of August 1786, the resolutions authorizing changes in Jay's instructions failed to pass. The Journals of the Confederation Congress do not contain a breakdown of the votes, but other sources uniformly report that a majority of states voted in favor of the resolutions (7 to 5). They failed only because passage required a supermajority of nine states pursuant to Article IX of the Articles of Confederation, which provided in relevant part:
The united States in congress assembled shall never engage in a war, nor grant letters of marque or reprisal in time of peace, nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, nor ascertain the sums and expenses necessary for the defense and welfare of the United States, or any of them, nor emit bills, nor borrow money on the credit of the united States, nor appropriate money, nor agree upon the number of vessels of war, to be built or purchased, or the number of land or sea forces to be raised, nor appoint a commander in chief of the army or navy, unless nine States assent to the same: nor shall a question on any other point, except for adjourning from day to day be determined, unless by the votes of the majority of the united States in congress assembled.
The voting was apparently strictly sectional lines, the northern states in favor, the southern states opposed.

Although Jay's revised instructions failed for want of a supermajority, leading southern politicians, including James Monroe, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were, in Van Cleve's words, "outraged by the willingness of the 'eastern' states to accept what they believed was a betrayal of Southern regional interests that would greatly damage their hopes for western development."

And herein, Van Cleve hypothesizes, lies the quo. In 1787, negotiations with Spain remained unfinished, and northerners continued to maintain that Jay's instructions should be modified. In return for southern votes in favor of the Northwest Ordinance, Van Cleve maintains, southerners elicited promises that northerners would desist from continued efforts to change Jay's instructions.

Now, having gone on at far greater length than I originally planned concerning the background, my purpose here is not to review all of the evidence that Van Cleve cites in support of his theory. I will content myself with quoting one tantalizing letter to which Van Cleve refers.

The letter in question, dated July 10, 1787, is from Benjamin Hawkins, a North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress, to Richard Caswell, the Governor of North Carolina. In the letter, written three days before the passage of the Northwest Ordinance, Hawkins mysteriously refers to "a variety of circumstances unnecessary as well perhaps as improper to relate" that may advance the "protection of our Western Citizens, and of securing and preserving our right to the free and common use of the navigation of the Mississipi" (emphasis added):

New-York the 10th July 1787

Dear Sir

I wrote to your Excellency in June, and informed you of my intention, to return to North Carolina immediately on the arrival of Mr. Burton: And accordingly I sat out as early as practicable by the way of Philadelphia.

Mr. [John B.] Ashe & Mr. [Robert] Burton having thought proper to return to North Carolina, for reasons which they did assign to you, the State for a short period was unrepresented.

It being of great importance to the Union at this time particularly, that Congress should be and continue in session, the members present and the secretary wrote after me and Mr. [William] Blount and requested our return. The letters reached me on the eave of my departure for Virginia, and although I had but scanty means of support, having not drawn on the public resources and my own being nearly exhausted yet I determined to return induced thereto in a great measure From a hope of being able to procure some aid from the Union towards the protection of our Western Citizens, and of securing and preserving our right to the free and common use of the navigation of the Mississipi.

The first we find to be impracticable from the want of information, and, our having but seven States represented in Congress. But the latter, which is very interesting to the Western citizens of the southern States, as it regards their peace and welfare, has at length, from a variety of circumstances unnecessary as well perhaps as improper to relate, been put in a better situation than heretofore.

As soon as another State shall arrive, And in the expectation of the return of Mr. Ashe & Burton agreeable with their promise, I shall set again for North Carolina and Mr. Blount to the Convention in Philadelphia.

The Secretary for foreign affairs will send you some information from Mr. Adams, of an attempt to counterfeit our currency in Great-Britain. With that Kingdom we have no prospects of a commercial Treaty.

It may be deemed unnecessary and important in me to say (although I concur in opinion, with the most respectable of our citizens) that it is indispensably necessary for the well-being of the Southern States, that they should keep up respectable representations in Congress untill their rights are perfectly secured.

I have the honor to be, with great & sincere esteem, D Sir, Yr. Excellencys Most obt Servt., Benjamin Hawkins
And yes, in case you were wondering I have it on good authority that Governor Caswell's portrait was painted by his five year old son using fingerpaints.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787

George William Van Cleve's A Slaveholders' Union can be maddening. By way of example, Van Cleve argues that the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed by the Congress of the Confederation on July 13, 1787, was part of “a political bargain reached at the [Constitutional] Convention [concerning slavery and other matters], but outside the formal Constitution submitted for ratification.” In support of this assertion, Van Cleve states:
A useful starting point for understanding this bargain is that in the middle of the Philadelphia Convention, on July 13, 1787, the Continental Congress, acting in New York with a quorum composed in significant part of Constitutional Convention delegates who had traveled for several days from Philadelphia for the specific purpose of providing that quorum, adopted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Who these members were, how many of them there were, and whether their presence was critical to achieving a quorum at the Continental Congress on July 13, 1787 – none of these things does Van Cleve bother to divulge, so far as I can tell, nor are there references to sources for these assertions.

Intrigued by Van Cleve's point but frustrated by the utter lack of supporting authority, I went to the computer to try to figure out who voted for the Ordinance and which of them were also delegates to the Constitutional Convention. What I found was that the Ordinance passed by a vote of eight states to none. Of the individual state representatives voting on the Ordinance on behalf of their states, only one – Abraham Yates of New York – voted against:

MA – Yes (2-0)

Samuel Holten – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
Nathan Dane – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

NY – Yes (2-1)

Melancton Smith – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
John Haring – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
Abraham Yates, Jr. – Nay. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention (although his nephew Robert Yates was).

NJ – Yes (2-0)

Abraham Clark – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
James Schureman – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

DE – Yes (2-0)

Dyre Kearney – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
Nathaniel Mitchell – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

VA – Yes (3-0)

William Grayson – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
Richard Henry Lee – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
Edward Carrington – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

NC – Yes (2-0)

William Blount – Aye. Attended Constitutional Convention and signed
Benjamin Hawkins – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. (Van Cleve identifies Hawkins as "Congressman (and Philadelphia Convention delegate)". This is incorrect.)

SC – Yes (2-0)

John Kean – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
Daniel Huger – Aye. Not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

GA – Yes (2-0)

William Few – Aye. Attended Constitutional Convention and signed.
William Pierce – Aye. Attended Constitutional Convention but did not sign.

Article V of the Articles of Confederation included a stipulation that provided that “[n]o State shall be represented in Congress by less than two, nor more than seven members.” It therefore appears that the votes of two states – both in favor of the Ordinance – were made possible because delegates from the Constitutional Convention traveled to New York. Both of Georgia's delegates to Congress were also delegates to the Convention. And one of North Carolina's delegates (without whom North Carolina would apparently not have been entitled to vote) falls into the same category.

If I understand the Articles of Confederation properly, Article IX required the votes of nine states to enact legislation concerning certain matters; legislation concerning all other matters required "the votes of the majority of the united States in congress assembled", which I believe meant an absolute majority of all states (i.e., seven out of thirteen) rather than a majority of those present.

The Confederation Congress apparently understood that the Northwest Ordinance did not fall under the supermajority rule, since the Ordinance passed with only eight votes. Assuming that a majority of all the states was required, then the addition of the votes of George and North Carolina was necessary to passage of the Ordinance, and the presence of three delegates - Blount of North Carolina and Few and Pierce of Georgia - was in fact crucial. But did they in fact travel to New York specifically to vote on the Ordinance?

To shed some light (albeit indirect light) on this issue, I used this attendance module to determine how long the three crucial delegates were absent from the Constitutional Convention:

Blount - Absent 7/3/87 through 8/8/87
Few - Absent 7/2/87 through 8/8/87
Pierce - Absent 7/2/87 through 8/7/87

This evidence is fairly equivocal, it seems to me. On the one hand, they all seem to have left and returned at about the same time. On the other hand, they were all away for over a month; whatever they did, they clearly did not simply ride to New York, vote, and ride back. In fact, at least one of the three - William Pierce - apparently had other things on his mind. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia:
Although [Pierce] agreed with the end result of the proceedings [at the Constitutional Convention], Pierce did not sign the U.S. Constitution, having left the convention at the end of June to attend to "a piece of business so necessary that it became unavoidable." The business was a duel with merchant John Auldjo, after tempers flared over mishandled "mercantile dealings." Auldjo's second, Alexander Hamilton, intervened and prevented the contest.
In the end, I'm left about where I began. Van Cleve's theory is interesting, but the broad-brush assertions unbacked by detail make for frustrating reading.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guana Canal?

Virtually all New Yorkers, I expect, know the name "Gowanus" via the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Likewise, I expect that most New Yorkers don't give the name a second thought, as odd as it is. If I thought about it, I probably would have guessed that it derived from an eponymous Dutch farmer or something.

In fact, the derivation seems uncertain. This article suggests that it derived "either from Gowane, a Canarsee tribe leader, or the Dutch word for bay, gouwee."

But Ron Chernow, in Washington: A Life, suggests that Gowanus has nothing to do with Gowane, gouwee or my hypothetical dutchman, referring to "a wooded, hilly area [of Brooklyn] called the Heights of Guana (or Gowanus Heights)."

No word on who or what Guana was. I'm glad we cleared that up.

"During the continuance of the present dispute"

I was looking at some early state constitutions the other day and noticed something in New Hampshire's constitution of January 5, 1776 that surprised and confused me. The opening paragraph of the New Hampshire constitution - the first promulgated by any of the American colonies - indicated the New Hampshire Congress had asked the Continental Congress for advice on whether to establish a new government, and that the Continental Congress had recommended that New Hampshire do so (emphasis added):
WE, the members of the Congress of New Hampshire, chosen and appointed by the free suffrages of the people of said colony, and authorized and empowered by them to meet together, and use such means and pursue such measures as we should judge best for the public good; and in particular to establish some form of government, provided that measure should be recommended by the Continental Congress: And a recommendation to that purpose having been transmitted to us from the said Congress: Have taken into our serious consideration the unhappy circumstances, into which this colony is involved by means of many grievous and oppressive acts of the British Parliament, depriving us of our natural and constitutional rights and privileges; to enforce obedience to which acts a powerful fleet and army have been sent to this country by the ministry of Great Britain, who have exercised a wanton and cruel abuse of their power, in destroying the lives and properties of the colonists in many places with fire and sword, taking the ships and lading from many of the honest and industrious inhabitants of this colony employed in commerce, agreeable to the laws and customs a long time used here.
I found this surprising because I had understood that the Continental Congress had first recommended to the colonies that they establish new governments by resolution agreed to Friday May 10, 1776:
Resolved, That it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established, to adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.
What, then, was this recommendation that the Continental Congress made to New Hampshire, apparently some six months earlier? A note to the text of the New Hampshire constitution mentioned a "Resolution of the American Congress for Establishing a Form of Government in New Hampshire and the Resolve of the Provincial Congress, for taking up Government in Form", but provided no details.

A hunt through the Journals of the Continental Congress turned up the answer. On Wednesday October 18, 1775 "[t]he delegates from New Hampshire [at that point apparently Josiah Bartlett and John Langdon] laid before the [Second Continental] Congress, a part of the instructions delivered to them by their Colony." The part of the instructions concerning which the New Hampshire delegates "appl[ied] for advice" stated as follows:
We would have you immediately use your utmost endeavours to obtain the advice and direction of the Congress, with respect to our administring [sic] Justice, and regulating our civil police. We press you not to delay this matter, as, its being done speedily (yr. own knowledge of our circumstances must inform you) will probably prevent the greatest confusion among us.
Congress resolved "That consideration of this be referred to Monday next", October 23, 1775.

Congress did not address the matter on October 23 as scheduled, apparently because it learned that day that Peyton Randolph of Virginia had died the day before. However, on Thursday October 26, 1775 Congress did take up the issue and appointed a committee of five "to take into consideration the instruction given to the delegates of the Colony of New Hampshire, and report their opinions thereon." The five committee members were John Rutledge of South Carolina, John Adams of Massachusetts, Samuel Ward of Rhode Island, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.

The committee delivered its report to Congress on Thursday November 2, 1775. The next day, Friday November 3, 1775, the "Congress, taking into consideration the report of the Com[mitt]ee on the New Hampshire Instructions", issued the following resolution:
Resolved, That it be recommended to the provincial Convention of New Hampshire, to call a full and free representation of the people, and that the representatives, if they think it necessary, establish such a form of government, as, in their judgment, will be produce the happiness of the people, and most effectually secure peace and good order in the province, during the continuance of the present dispute between G[reat] Britain and the colonies.
Herein lies, I expect, the explanation for the November 3rd resolution's obscurity. Congress recommended that New Hampshire establish "a form of government" only "if they think it necessary" and only "during the continuance of the present dispute" - as if that dispute might be resolved. The May 10, 1776 resolution, in contrast, recommended the establishment of governments without these provisos and (by implication) on a permanent basis.
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